Often when we travel to a city, even if it’s just for a few days, I try to find an apartment to rent; I like living like a local and having access to a kitchen. But when we were planning to our trip to Oxford I had trouble finding anything suitable. Then it occurred to me – Oxford is full of dorm rooms; I wonder if any of them might be available? A Google search led me to the Oxford Rooms website, where I quickly discovered that not only could we actually stay at university, the costs were lower than hotels in the area.
Travel-with-kids tip: Double rooms at Oxford University average around £88 or $143 per night while a family suite for four people costs £175 or $284. This may not seem cheap, but I found that hotels in the Oxford area were pretty pricey, at least during the summer, and short-term apartments were hard to come by.
Our rooms were at Keble College, one of the newer colleges at Oxford, and quite the Victorian pile! I loved that we entered the college through an impressive gate. The boys loved running around the quad.
There are family suites and apartments available at Keble, but by the time I figured out that this was what we wanted to do they were booked and all I could get was two twin rooms, each with its own bathroom. Happily, they were right next to each other. Our dormitory was a modern one, tucked behind the more impressive building surrounding the quad. The rooms aren’t fancy but linens and towels are provided. Internet was sketchy and required an Ethernet cable, but I was ultimately able to get it to work after several calls to the porter’s lodge.
Travel-with-kids tip: When you enter your dates into the Oxford Rooms site, you get a list of different colleges with rooms available, the fees, and sometimes pictures of the rooms themselves. Be sure to look carefully if you are interested in staying in a historic building, as many of the rooms are in the more modern dormitories.
Each night of our stay Matt and I put the boys to bed and then went next door to hang out and drink wine – just like we were young and in school again! The boys could get up and use the bathroom if they needed to and frankly, the dormitory walls were thin enough that we could hear them if they made mischief or needed us. When it was time for us to go to sleep, we simply moved one child from one room to the next so that an adult could sleep in the other bed. (One thing I’ve learned as a traveling parent is that a sleeping child can readily be moved from place to place as circumstance and necessity dictate.)
Travel-with-kids tip: You can only stay in Oxford during the university vacation periods, which coincide with the holiday periods that are popular with tourists. For this reason, it’s best to book as early as possible.
Breakfast is included in the price of the room and is served in the college dining hall – a bit different than what most Americans are used to I suspect. The quality of the hot food is a little dubious, but my family of voracious eaters had no complaints. And we were able to fuel up and grab some fruit for snacks later in the day.
If I had this to do over, I’d book earlier so that we could maybe find rooms in one of the historic buildings. I’d also love to stay at Christ Church College, one of the more beautiful spots on Earth. We did tour Christ Church and I want to eat in this dining hall under the benevolent gaze of porters wearing bowler hats.
Travel-with-kids tip: I’d love to stay in one of the older and more historic colleges, but Keble College, which is big and always seems to have rooms available, does have a very convenient location. It’s directly across the street from the Oxford University Museum of Natural History (a fabulous place to visit with kids) and an easy walk right up to Broad Street, the main drag full of shops and restaurants.
I loved Oxford and found it as romantic and lovely a spot as I had always dreamed it would be. Staying at university was a really fun way to experience what it would be like to study there and maybe to imagine that one day I’ll be visiting my own boys in just such a dormitory.